Jan Mammey – Mise en Abyme

Review by Wayne Swanson

German photographer Jan Mammey celebrates form in all its forms in Mise en Abyme. There are lines, angles, shapes, and volumes. Built forms and organic forms that mimic the built. All are here, often on top of one another. The title refers to the formal technique of placing a copy of an image within itself. 

Mammey’s main practice is in conceptual photography but, as photographers tend to do, he has also amassed during his career a large collection of representational images that do not fit with any project. In Mammey’s case, he has several thousand photos of urban environments around the world — building facades, design details, interiors, furniture, street scenes, automobiles, and more. In Mise en Abyme he has taken some of these images and rephotographed and combined them to make pictures within pictures.

Sometimes, the combinations are obvious — a framed photo is propped up on a desk, or photos are attached to a wall with masking tape. Other times, is appears that images have simply been rephotographed on a blank background. Whether by design or the consequence of the reproduction on matte paper, the flat surface of the page makes it difficult to determine what’s “real” and what has been manipulated. 

But throughout the book, forms play off each other in fascinating ways. A tile path on a floor mimics the roofline of a sedan on the facing page; a wire shelf dumped vertically into a box of trash evokes a skyscraper many pages earlier in the book; elements of buildings, architectural models, street advertising, window displays, etc. somehow find common ground.

What to make of it all? Even the dense essay that ends the book by friend and fellow artist Carsten Tabel struggles to pin it down. Tabel finds the aesthetic to be rooted in the mix of 19th century and post-World-War-II concrete architecture of Frankfurt am Main, where they both grew up. He goes on to explain his own failed attempts to find a story in the work. Amid too much academic noodling about photographic praxis, unfinished modernity vs. the end of postmodernity and the like, his best insight is his initial impression: Mammey was thinking about “a kind of poetry album.”

That’s it! Mammey revels in constructing connections among the shapes and forms of the built environment. Mise en Abyme is his free-verse poem crafted from fragments of the real world, combined and sequenced using a visual version of word play.


Mise en Abyme, Jan Mammey

Photographer: Jan Mammey, born Frankfurt, Germany, resides Leipzig, Germany

Publisher: Kodoji Press, Baden, Switzerland, copyright 2018

Essay: Carsten Tabel

Text: English

Stiffcover book, perfect bound with sewn signatures, four-color lithography, 8.75 x 11 inches, 168 pages, 25 color and 92 black and white plates, index of plates, printed in Germany

Photobook designer: HIT Studio, Berlin, Germany


Articles & photographs published on PhotoBook Journal may not be reproduced without the permission of the PhotoBook Journal staff and the photographer(s).

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